General User Advice: Don’t Upgrade Without Help

A few of us in the business of supporting Ubuntu near here have reached the consensus for the new Ubuntu release for users to not attempt an upgrade of Ubuntu to 11.04 without someone very technically competent there to fix things should they go wrong.

This is what I will be advising to all the Ubuntu users I look after and for those I directly look after I will be skipping the release altogether until hardware stability can be more readily assessed.

The reason for the cautionary stance is because so far, testing on non-intel hardware looks grim. There are a lot of regressions which I hope will clear up after release, but you can never tell. There is an increase in lock-ups reported from people who’ve been testing the daily-builds, inoperable wifi and graphics card issues. All core issues which would break any user who isn’t very technically competent.

I’ll probably by using 11.04 myself (when I can get it working) as it is a very cool release with lots of interesting new changes to try out and awesome functionality. The developers have had a heroic battle to get all the changes in and keep everything mostly together; but I can’t recommend it for everybody just yet.

Your thoughts?

16 thoughts on “General User Advice: Don’t Upgrade Without Help

  1. Chris, my system.. Asus A8N32SLI. Opteron 180. 4 Gigs of OCZ RAM, 4 hard drives.. quad boot ” Windows XP, Ubuntu Studio 10:10
    Ubuntu 10:10 32 bit and now Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. Radeon HD 4870 and a Corsair Professional PSU 800 w. Monitor , huge 55 in Sony Bravia TV.
    I upgraded using the Alt +F2 method, it took about 1hr to do it all. It went flawlessly. No borked system, DVD, CD’s work fine. All web browsers work fine. So this is a AMD non Intel system that has worked fine….. so I am not sure whats happening on your end?

  2. oops.. sorry I meant to say Martin..I have been talking alot to Chris lately about Gnome 3.0…my bad

  3. I’ll stick with my Maverick for now until i brake something then I’ll try something with gnome 3 .

  4. In my experience, the upgrader program failed early on (with python-minimal), and left the system in an unusable state (/var/lib/dpkg/status was corrupted), so i had to wipe and reinstall from USB. But once i did that, it worked fine. (on amd64)

    So yeah, i’d agree don’t upgrade without assistance. ANd backup your system stuff first.

  5. I think the best way to try out new releases is if you have a system with separate / and /home folders, then install from media (formatting / only). If things don’t work, the /home folder is intact and installing the previous working version is a relative snap. Probably takes about an hour to install this way *unless* it’s a system with a ton of extra packages installed (a custom remastersys iso would solve this problem though).

  6. Maverick to Natty upgrade resulted in a broken grub for me. Google search for [natty grub_env_export] to see I’m not the only one.

    Thankfully I’m able to fix this but it is one of those errors that you can realistically only help regular folk with in person.

    BTW when you mention someone being “there” you should probably clarify that you mean in person rather than being available over the Internet. The class of problems that occur don’t seem easy to describe or solve over the phone and if your desktop isn’t working you won’t be able to turn on remote desktop.

  7. @Roger: Can you tell me how you fixed this issue? I have another person suffering from it.

  8. I’ve upgraded a netbook so far, and 0 issues (non exotic hw though).

    Actually I think is the best Ubuntu release ever.

  9. I am among those people who will *not* upgrade to Natty… In past, I could not wait for a release to upgrade, but this time I am a bit disappointed. More than all, Unity. This cycle I downloaded beta1, beta2, and several daily builds, and tried them (a good and safe way to try them is to boot the ISO directly using GRUB). None satisfied me, I had lock-up (never had before, just with the release) and several issues with the Unity (even in the release). I also tried GNOME 3, somewhat more mature, but it also disappointed me as well. Maverick has all I need for now, so let’s wait and see what happens!

  10. @doctormo: I fixed the grub_env_export problem by rerunning grub-setup on the boot drive (/dev/sda). The first sector of the disk contains the partition table and a trivial amount of boot code that typically finds the partition marked as bootable and executes the first sector of that.

    The first partition typically starts at the next cylinder (but now some sort of block alignment). When you use grub it typically will put some code in the remainder of the space between that first sector and the start of the first partition. This code knows how to read various file system types so it can read additional modules, continue to boot almost anything, find config files etc.

    In this particular case the gunk hidden at the beginning of the disk and /boot/grub got out of sync (from different versions as far as I can tell). Running the grub-setup command will ensure everything is correct and up to date.

    As to how you run the grub-setup command that will vary by what media you have available. At home I have a PXE boot server setup so I just do network boots for installation (text mode FTW) and there is also a rescue option that reruns grub-setup for you. If using a ISO or similar you have to mount the boot partition somewhere and use the –root-directory option to grub-setup.

    (I had to put ‘typically’ everywhere since you can do things differently but most don’t.)

  11. @John: You don’t have to use Unity. After selecting your name on the login screen you can choose Unity or ‘classic’ with and without visual effects (compiz). I use classic with effects on my desktop and without on my laptop. (Effects turned on on the laptop results in an additional 60 interrupts per second and hence not worth it.)

    There is definitely potential in what Unity and Gnome 3 are trying to do but it will take a while before they are reliable, robust and user friendly. At the moment they are optimised too much for smaller screens and single tasking but eventually it will be addressed. (I actually quite like how Windows 7 does it.)

    The app menu is highly annoying to me and can’t be trivially turned off if using Unity which is why I am not using Unity. It is completely useless if you use focus follows mouse or larger screens (that top bar can be a very long way from the window it corresponds to).

    It will be interesting to see where the iterations go and if there will be the current one size fits all approach or if Unity/Gnome 3 will adjust behaviour based on screen sizes, how many apps are running etc. They also need to do things like integrate with Ubuntu One so that settings can be applied to all your machines – absolutely essential in the case of having various keyboard shortcuts.

  12. Well, nothing of intel whatsoever in my system and upgrading from maverick to natty went flawlessly. And yes, the multiple of anecdote is not data, I know.

  13. I have to agree on this one. Unity breaks or removes too much functionality.

    On top of that the usual “try the LiveCD first” advice leads to worseresults, as there is no graceful fallback to Classic mode when Unity fails (other than a dialog box that hardly explains why/how it does). This means the LiveCD (and installer) are useless useless in most older hardware, not a great first impression. 🙁

  14. Seems to be particular issues with ATI Mobility Radeon graphics. Blank screen when booting from CD. My Toshiba laptop has this problem – and it is not easy to overcome – but have seen Acer and Dell ones also reported. There is a bug report on the issue.

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